The history of Setra: an idea becomes self-supporting

The history of Setra: an idea becomes self-supporting
March 2011
  • From body-on-frame to today's buses and coaches
  • Setra: a construction method becomes a brand name
The Setra brand is celebrating a double anniversary in 2011. The first Setra S 8 was launched to bus operators 60 years ago this year, while the company that originally created the brand, Kässbohrer, introduced its first bus, built on a Saurer chassis, exactly 100 years ago.
From body-on-frame to today's buses and coaches
The brand name Setra comes from the German word "selbsttragend", meaning self-supporting. This construction principle, dating from the early 1950s, brought about a revolution in bus construction in Germany and throughout Europe. Although Otto Kässbohrer did not himself invent the self-supporting concept, he was very familiar with it, having spent many years building passenger car bodies and learning the principles behind the self-supporting vehicle body.
1951: the beginning of the Setra era
The decision was made in the spring of 1950 to develop a bus built along self-supporting design principles. Launched at the IAA show of 1951, the Setra S 8 was the first bus to feature a self-supporting body, rear-mounted engine and direct rear-axle drive. In the 60 years that followed the introduction of the first Setra S 8 in 1951, the long-established Ulm company would launch a total of five bus and coach model series.
1951: the 10 series
The 10 series comprised the models S 6 to S 15. The S 10 to S 14 models were also built in touring bus, rural regular-service and urban bus versions. The model series 10 marked the introduction of the modular construction system, whereby vehicles could be built very cost-effectively in varying lengths. The letter S still stands today for the Setra brand, the number for the maximum number of seat rows, thus indirectly also for the length of the bus.
1967: the 100 series
1967 brought the introduction of the 100 series, comprising the five models S 100, S 110, S 120, S 130 and S 150. The first digit in the model designation from now on indicated the model series. The transition from the Setra 10 series to the 100 series represented a further step towards industrial-scale bus manufacturing at Kässbohrer. All nine models were built according to the modular system and shared numerous common parts. The buses in the 100 series were characterised by their more angular shape as well as by improved comfort levels, the the outcome of the larger passenger compartment and increased interior standing height. In addition, independent front suspension and air suspension were included in the standard specification.
1976: the 200 series
Setra's 25th anniversary was marked by the introduction of the 200 series with its six different models: S 211 H, S 212 H, S 213 H, S 215 H and the high-deck versions S 213 HD and S 215 HD. This series also set other technical milestones. Among its features included the use of disc brakes as standard on the front axle, while a new cross-flow ventilation system was also introduced as standard in this series. Both passengers and drivers of the 200 series buses benefited from their excellent road holding and suspension.
1991: the 300 series
The year 1991 brought the launch of the 300 series and thus of the S 309 HD, S 315 HD and S 315 HDH models. The most striking features of the new buses included the distinctive sweeping line behind the cockpit area and the newly developed integrated mirror system, which gave the 300 series its unique "face". The down-curving mirror arms, originally nicknamed "bug antennae" were heated and could be adjusted from inside the bus. In conjunction with an A-pillar that had been optimised to allow good visibility, these gave the driver an excellent view of both sides of the bus. A further key feature of the new 300 series was its ergonomically designed cockpit. And as far as safety was concerned, once again only the best was good enough for the 300 series. Anti-lock brakes and acceleration skid control (ABS/ASR) were fitted as standard, along with a retarder made by either Telma or Voith.
To make it somewhat easier to understand the full product portfolio, the launch of the 300 series also brought the introduction of new vehicle groupings. These are still used today, their names clearly defining the vehicles within them:
  • The luxury touring coaches bear the name TopClass
  • ComfortClass stands for the economical GT and GT-HD models of touring coach, including right-hand-drive versions and
  • as a reflection of their multi-purpose functionality, the rural regular-service and straightforward dual-purpose buses are grouped together under the MultiClass name.
2001: the 400 series
With the TopClass 400 of 2001, Setra introduced a whole new dimension to touring bus manufacture, guaranteeing travel at its most luxurious for both passenger and driver. The ComfortClass 400 range of touring buses was added in 2004, while the MultiClass 400 rural regular-service buses were the last to join the portfolio in 2005. All in all, the 400 series comprises more than 20 models, among them two versions for the US and two right-hand-drive ComfortClass models.

Press Contact

  • Head of Content Management Mercedes-Benz Trucks & Daimler Buses
  • Tel: +49 711 17-53058


"Improved comfort when travelling" The Viktoria carriage built by coachbuilding company Karl Kässbohrer
"The first double-earner" This dual-purpose vehicle built by Kässbohrer (1907) was a brewery dray during the week and an excursion bus on Sundays
“The founding father of regular-service buses” Karl Heinrich Kässbohrer next to the "Wiblinger" bus in 1911. The completely enclosed bus body on a Saurer chassis, priced at around 18,000 Marks at the time, had 18 seats and standing room for 10, and took around 25 minutes to travel from Ulm´s cathedral square to Wiblingen, some 10 km away.
“Passenger transport in tandem” As early as 1928, Kässbohrer was using a bus with a trailer unit in Metzingen to transport ninety passengers.
“Summer breezes and scenic views” In 1936 a 36-seat panoramic touring coach caused something of a stir and made travelling fun. The "Silbervogel", or Silver Bird, based on a 5 t chassis from Daimler-Benz, had windows all round and a sliding roof.
“A true Goliath” The biggest bus of the pre-war era was a large semitrailer bus with a Mercedes tractor unit and an overall length of 18.5 m. It could carry up to 170 passengers.
“A revolution in bus building” The self-supporting design developed by Otto Kässbohrer in 1951 had already become the standard 10 years later. The space frame design of the Setra S 8´s welded framework meant that it could be carried by six men – visible proof of its progressive lightweight construction.
“A sensation in the bus industry” The Setra S 8 was officially launched at the IAA in 1951. At 5 t in weight, the aerodynamically designed bus consumed 19 l/100 km on cross-country routes. The legendary longevity of Setra, still a key factor today, was also evident in this prototype, as it was in use for 14 years.
“World weight record” In 1955, the Setra ST 110 model became the first bus whose own weight (6000 kg) was less than its payload (7500 kg) – in other words it could carry more than it weighed! This world record is still valid today. “World weight record” In 1955, the Setra ST 110 model became the first bus whose own weight (6000 kg) was less than its payload (7500 kg) – in other words it could carry more than it weighed! This world record is still valid today.
“World premiere of the self-supporting compact bus” The objective behind the Setra S 6 "club coach", launched in 1955 at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, was to make coach travel as comfortable as in a passenger car. The vehicle´s technical features, from independent wheel suspension to a steering wheel gearshift, were enthusiastically received by the international audience.
“Model series 100” At the IAA of 1967 in Frankfurt, Setra made a further step towards the industrialisation of bus manufacturing. The introduction of the Series 100 was the foundation of what would become the company´s greatest success to date. The typical, rounded contours of the first generation of Setra buses gave way to clear, straighter lines.
“The flagship of the series” The Setra S 150 was at one time the top model of the Series 100. This bus was impressive, not only in terms of its groundbreaking design, but also for its many innovative engineering and design features.
“A clear view on innovation” Good visibility, even in cold weather, was something that only became standard with the introduction of anti-mist double glazed windows.
“Setra travels to the New World” The first export order to the US in 1955 saw the delivery of 200 Setra super-high-deck "Golden Eagle" and "Silver Eagle" coaches to Continental Trailways.
“Travelling in style” A new generation of touring coaches of and for its time, the ComfortClass 400, was introduced at the "Busworld" show of 2003.
“High standards on regular-service routes” In 2005, in the form of  the S 415 UL and the S 417 UL, Setra introduced the new MultiClass 400 generation of rural regular-service buses.
“The ideal long-distance touring coach is on its way” The success story of the Series 200 began in 1973 with the triple-axled Setra super-high-deck model S 200, which attracted considerable attention at the Geneva Motor Show that year.
"Coach of the Year 1993" The Series 300 and the S 315 HDH set a new benchmark in terms of looks in 1991. The completely new integral rear view mirror system gave these coaches their unmistakable face. The ergonomically designed driver´s cockpit, which here for the first time featured a multifunction display unit as standard, was also new.
“The sunny side of travelling” When it comes to innovation and individualisation, Setra has always been a step ahead. In 1988, the Setra S 216 HDS with solar roof received the highest award for technical innovation in Poreç, Croatia. Solar energy is used in this coach, as one example, for the ventilation system.
“A bus built according to the modular system”  In 1959 the Setra S 9 became the first bus to be built according to the new modular system (S 9 – S 15). Buses were built using the same body and crank assembly components, which not only led to more streamlined production methods but also enabled operators to run standardised fleets and rationalise spare parts stocks.
“Enjoyable travel, whatever the purpose” The first series of MultiClass buses conquered the market in 1994. The Setra S 315 UL, S 315 H and S 315 GT could be used in regular-service operations as well as for daily excursion travel and soon became extremely popular both at home and abroad.
"Bus of the Year 1996" The Setra S 315 NF convinced specialist journalists from 12 European countries and in technical terms took the lead in the development of low-floor technology.
“The model for today´s standard regular-service bus” In 1963 the Setra S 125, the predecessor of the Series 100, became the first German bus to be designed explicitly to meet modern urban transport needs, with low-step entry, wide doors, generous standing room and 42 seats.
“Added comfort on long journeys” The Setra S 150 panoramic bus was launched in 1967. The sensational new feature here was a toilet located underneath the floor of the passenger compartment.
“A new era of travel comfort” When it came to the technology, the Series 200 of 1976 represented a sensation. Its aerodynamically efficient lines, numerous innovative engineering and convenience features, a galley kitchen and toilet below deck as well as spacious luggage compartments, established a new generation of comfortable touring coaches.
“Luxury and high-tech in one” In 2001 Setra launched the first bus models in its Series 400, the TopClass 400, so establishing a definitive new dimension in luxury. Once again, Setra was able to set a new milestone for the bus industry in terms of technology, comfort and design.
“On a high” The first Setra double-decker coach, the S 228 DT, became the new flagship of Setra´s touring coach range in 1981.
Setra to celebrate anniversary at Retro Classics 2011
Setra S 415 HD Special Edition: limited special edition of the TopClass 400
The history of Setra: an idea becomes self-supporting. The first Setra, an S 8 from 1951
The history of Setra: an idea becomes self-supporting. The first Kässbohrer bus, on a Saurer chassis, built in 1911
The history of Setra: an idea becomes self-supporting. The prototype of the Series 200: S 215 HD, built in 1976